Studio Libeskind‘s Centre de Congrès à Mons – completed this month – forms a dynamic structure that juxtaposes the smooth curve of the main building with an angular, jutting ‘prow’. Completed this month, it marks the medieval town’s year as the European Capital of Culture, which it hopes will stimulate Mons’ economic revitalisation.
“We used simple, yet dramatic, design gestures, local materials and a flexible program for this modest gem of a building,” says practice founder Daniel Libeskind. “We hope the new centre brings a fresh dynamic to this area of revitalisation in Mons,” he adds.
The bearing structure of the 12,500sq m building comprises two concrete ribbons that spiral upwards from the ground. The upper layer is clad in vertical bands of anodized aluminium, while the lower level is similarly wrapped in slats of unfinished Robinia wood – the same as the trees in a neighbouring park.
Libeskind says the open cladding allows those inside to “enjoy a wonderful work of art – the city itself”.
To provide continuity with the form, there are few windows within the ribbons, and these are fronted by slats that rotate to let the daylight in and provide views of the surroundings. A viewing platform tops the centre, allowing visitors to see both the 17th century belfry tower – a UNESCO site – in the historic city centre, as well as the new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava in the newer neighbourhood of Grands Prés. This, Libeskind explains, underpins one of the key aims of the project, which is to serve as a connector between the old and the new.
The end of the wooden ‘ribbon’ cantilevers out over the entrance, its oblique form recalling the stripped-back structure of the prow of a ship. On this side – the north façade – the building lifts up in one corner, creating space for the glass-fronted lobby. The glass panels tilt at the opposite angle to the flat wall surface above, adding to the angularity of this elevation compared with the smooth curves that make up the rest of the building.
Crescent-shaped skylights in the double-height lobby’s ceiling are spaced at irregular intervals to create shifting patterns of natural light. The concrete floor is cross-hatched with Belgian blue stone, while the sculptural staircase has been cast in place from concrete and finished with a glossy white surface and blue stone steps.
The building houses a grand hall entrance, three auditoriums, a multi-purpose hall, conference rooms, offices, a restaurant and underground parking. The forecourt is made from polished concrete flecked with bands of the Belgium blue stone that continue along the ribbon walls of the centre.